A first-term legislator is carrying a bill that would require and provide funding for every public school building in Minnesota to eventually provide single-user gender-neutral bathrooms to accommodate the needs of transgender students.
HF2925, sponsored by Rep. Alicia Kozlowski, DFL-Duluth, would also require all local districts and charters schools to include in any new construction or significant remodeling projects their plans to ensure those upgrades or new buildings include gender-neutral bathrooms.
Its language is included in a K-12 spending bill the House Education Finance Committee passed last week on party lines. The Senate version does not currently include the gender-neutral bathroom requirement and funding provisions.
HF2497 would increase the state’s K-12 education budget by $2.2 billion over the next two years and includes appropriations for the single-user gender-neutral bathroom funding provision. But Kozlowski isn’t ruling out the possibility that before the legislation is finalized it will be expanded beyond just single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms.
“Right now the bill states single user, but you know, some districts right now are wanting to do multi-user gender-neutral restrooms,” Kozlowski said during a March 24 hearing in the House Education Finance Committee. She said those conversations will continue.
None of Kozlowski’s colleagues in the House Education Finance Committee expressed opposition to the standalone bill. Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, asked that the bill come back through the committee for an additional hearing if it were to include any future amendments.
Last fall, many parents in the White Bear Lake school district expressed frustration over learning that a new elementary school was planned to have only gender-neutral bathrooms.
The language of the bill also includes funding for the addition of a staff member in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion division of the Minnesota Department of Education to “assist districts with their gender-neutral, single-user restroom proposals by providing technical assistance, community engagement, training and materials, and support for implementation.”
Rep. Ben Bakeberg, R-Jordan, questioned whether a new staff position in MDE is needed for the gender-neutral bathroom implementation.
“This underlying bill makes sense to me,” Bakeberg, a public school principal, said, adding that there are many reasons for students to prefer more privacy when using bathrooms in school. “I question the need for more money for MDE” to walk schools through the process of planning for gender-neutral bathrooms, he said.
While a number of testifiers who spoke in favor of the bill said it will also provide a benefit to students with disabilities, most spoke to how the legislation would address the concerns and needs of the transgender student community.
The bill will “provide schools with much needed funding to make these changes to increase the privacy of students’ gender identity or expression, and regardless of the underlying reasons for the students’ need or desire for increased privacy,” said Duluth Public Schools Superintendent John Magas.
Former Roseville Area Schools elementary principal Delon Smith supports the bill, and requested that schools not use it to restrict transgender students to only use gender-neutral facilities.
“Trans students need to have the choice to use whichever bathroom feels most comfortable for them,” Smith said, “and the gender-neutral facilities bill, which would fund gender-neutral facilities, should not be used to regulate trans kids to use only those facilities.”
The Minnesota School Board Association also supports the bill, said Tamara Grady, a board member for Osseo Public Schools.
“These investments allow for more privacy and choice for everyone,” Grady said. “The best way to not single out a legally protected class is to give everyone the same access.”
Other school bathroom-related legislation
HF2925 isn’t the only school-related bathroom bill to make its way through the legislature.
In January, Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, introduced a bill that would require all public and charter schools to make menstrual products available in school bathrooms, including boys’ bathrooms.
That bill was approved in the House Education Finance Committee but has not yet made its way to the House floor. Its original language was amended slightly so that it now reads, “The products must be available to all menstruating students in restrooms regularly used by students in grades 4 to 12 according to a plan developed by the school district.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.